Everyone is freaking out about a Texas hunting club's auction for a permit to bag an endangered black rhino in Namibia.
Don't worry, it's going to be OK. I realize it sounds crazy, but there's a program here most people haven't heard about that really is helping endangered rhinos, elephants and other species make a comeback in Namibia.
The knee-jerk response is that the members of the Dallas Safari Club are being insincere when they say the money will help save the black rhino herd. People assume this is Daenerys Targaryen selling one of her dragons to buy slave soldiers to take back the throne, a price that will mutilate the very body they are trying to save.
But really, this is about incentives. As longtime EconTalk listeners will remember, Karol Bourdreaux explained the idea behind Namibia's community based natural resources management program in 2008. In her words, they wanted to treat elephants more like chickens and less like whales.
Humans eat chickens, and instead of depleting the number of chickens in the world that has caused the world chicken population to rise to 50 billion. People take care of chickens because they are a source of food or profit.
Whales, on the other hand, are threatened and people in most parts of the world are not allowed to hunt them for blubber. Some still do. The only people that try to stop them are activists and authority figures, and neither of them are doing a particularly good job.
Namibia's program empowers the people of villages to sell a limited number of hunting permits for endangered animals. Yes, that should stir your belly in a bad way at first, but listen to the logic. The villagers all profit from the sales, and because there's money in those rhinos and elephants they step up and fight poachers as a community. They all have a financial incentive to protect the animals, and the ones that are shot tend to be old and no longer able to reproduce.
The Dallas Safari Club is simply auctioning off one of those permits on their own.
CNN spoke with Chris Weaver, head of World Wildlife Fund-Namibia, about the program and it's knee-jerk reaction from animal rights activists.
There are other effects of the conservancy program, some that don't follow strict principals of conservation. The practice of trophy hunting has proved controversial, invoking ire from various animal rights activists. Yet Weaver sees it as beneficial to preservation.
"From my perspective, we're trying to conserve the species, not the individual animal, and this creates a benefit when it's done in a well-regulated fashion, and the benefits go to the local community," he says.
That's really all one needs to know about the program, which has been in place since 1996. The people of Namibia have a successful program to save endangered species that has the slight disadvantage of being morally repugnant to Americans who, at best, possess a superficial understanding of how it works. It's our turn to listen to them about how to save their own animals.